Debunking the top HIV/AIDS-medical marijuana myths

In Feature Stories by TaraZ

People living with HIV/AIDS are not strangers to stigma. It’s been suggested that using medical marijuana would only increase the stigma they experience by also causing them to be seen as drug users. Medical marijuana users with HIV/AIDS have endured skepticism and been questioned on why they would need cannabis when “AIDS cocktails” and other treatments exist. And yet, studies conducted in North America have found that up to a third of people living with HIV/AIDS consume cannabis to help relieve their symptoms.

Canadians with HIV/AIDS have been granted access under the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) since 2001, yet obstacles to access continue today—the fear of stigma being amongst them.

Here, The Medical Marijuana Review looks at the top myths and truths about HIV/AIDS and medical marijuana.

Myth: Medical marijuana is bad for the immune system; people living with HIV/AIDS already have compromised immune systems, so they should not use it.

Truth: Research has debunked claims of harm to the immune system. A study conducted at San Francisco General Hospital found that AIDS patients using medical marijuana gained immune-system cells and kept their virus under control as well as patients who received a placebo. They also gained more needed weight.

Clinical trial data indicates that cannabis use does not adversely affect CD4 and CD8 T cell counts, and it may even improve immune function.

Myth: People with HIV/AIDS are just looking for an excuse to use marijuana; there are no known benefits.

Truth: Smoked marijuana has been shown to be beneficial in the relief of nausea due to HIV medications, when prescription anti-nausea medications have failed.

One study found evidence that smoked marijuana can relieve the pain of peripheral neuropathy caused by certain HIV medications.

There has also been evidence that low doses of marijuana have helped people living with HIV/AIDS to fall asleep and sleep long and better. It’s also increased their appetite and helped with anxiety and depression, all of which are common in patients.

Clinical trials have found that cognitive functions are not affected at the suggested dose of smoked marijuana.

Myth: Better, more effective drugs exist for people living with HIV/AIDS. They do not need medical marijuana.

Antiretroviral treatments can be extremely effective at prohibiting the advancement of the disease, but they are also expensive and inconsistent, with a range of unpleasant side effects.

Antiretroviral drug therapy has had a profoundly positive effect on the prognosis of AIDS, but its serious side effects include nausea and loss of appetite, often leading to unhealthy weight loss and challenges with taking required medications. Cannabis can be used to increase appetite, improve overall mood, and manage pain and nausea.

One study has reported that patients who use cannabis therapeutically are over 3 times more likely to adhere to their antiretroviral therapy regimens than non-cannabis users.

Myth: People living with HIV/AIDS should not open themselves up to the increased stigma that comes with marijuana use.

Truth: Because of the social impact of the disease, people living with HIV/AIDS both in and outside of North America tend to experience discrimination and can be subject to isolation, potentially leading to depression. Medical marijuana is particularly useful for treatment as it has been proven to be a viable medical option for depression in addition to its other benefits.

Myth: There is no professional or legitimate support for people living with HIV/AIDS to use medical marijuana.

Truth: AIDS Care has published support for medical marijuana use for people living with HIV/AIDS and is published by the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health in the United States. There is also support from the American Academy of HIV Medicine and the Canadian AIDS Society, an organization made up of over 125 AIDS service organizations.

AIDS Community Care of Montreal:

Canadian AIDS Society:

Fact sheets:


Flickr photo courtesy user eggrole


TaraMichelleTara-Michelle Ziniuk is a freelance writer, editor and copy editor living in Toronto. She writes about arts and culture, lifestyle, news and politics for print, radio and Web.